Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Gris Gris Boucherie Ya Ya

Hugh Acheson reveals staining his shirt was the worst thing to happen during the pig challenge.

“Gooch,” says Sara. Sara is not enamored with being in the middle but really despises being in the bottom. She feels like she is the stones in each team's pockets, bringing them down to the bottom of the creek. I don’t think that was the cause of Patty’s demise but I am not there to add therapeutic word balms. Patty’s three years of experience have gone with her packed knives, and that small amount of experience may have contributed to her demise. I think to truly last through this you need years of clanging pots, dealing with the stress, and figuring out ways to get yourself our of them weeds. 

Mac Rebennack is in the house, but he’s dressed up like Dr. John. Mac is John, just so you’re following. More than that he is a legend of New Orleans music tradition. If you love American music of all shapes and sizes you need Dr. John’s Gumbo in your collection. It’s the standards, but no one does it better than Dr. John, the Night Tripper. 

Now understanding what the good Dr. is saying is another story. He’s a cosmic figure and sometimes understanding the utterings rely on hallucinogenic drugs, but at my age, that is out of the question. Luckily he is being subtitled. Love the outfit and the joie de vivire that John exhibits. When asked how he’s doing his response is a thankful, “I’m breathing.” Alrighty then 'cause I thought he said “I’m breeding.” Breathing is much more family-friendly. 

It’s a making hot sauce challenge and Dr. John wants many things including the elusive “hip tang.”  “flavornacity of the highest order,” and the very rare “tangnacity.” He want you to hit it with the “can’t quit.” Oh, and it’s “gotta be kickin’. "

Travis looks through his internal culinary encyclopedia and comes up with the eternal question, “What kind of hot sauce does John want?”

They cook and profile themselves, with Carlos making a Mexican hot sauce and Shirley making a Chinese one. We learn that Nicholas was nervous in his 20s… this is a truism, as we were all nervous wrecks at that age. Carrie hopes “this pirate can throw down with some heat.” Did she just hit on Dr. John? 

Brian cannot explain his hip tang. 

Shirley gets a "Wow, off the hook, yeah."

Carrie made a hot one. Tang is there, or is it?

Nicholas has made a hip tang Heinz 57 sauce.

Louis made Canadian delight, with fresno and maple syrup. Dr. John can’t get a handle on this one, and Louis is dead to him. 

Stephanie. Off da hook. He kinda likes it. Carlos goes Yucatan. Dr. John profiles Carlos profiling himself, and tells him that because he looks like he can make hot sauce it seems that he can make hot sauce. 

Nina goes Caribbean. Hot. Hot. My family lived in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Cuba for 100 years and my dearly departed grandmother Freda would make Scotch Bonnet jelly that would tear you up. They love heat in them islands. 

Justin goes umami. John likes this. 

Bottoms: Nicholas’ was muddled and Dr. J does not like the “sweet, sour maneuver”; Carrie’s was Trinidadidilly not great; Nina burned the house down, but not in a good way. Brian, Justin, and Carlos get the tops for their hot sauce. Winner is Brian. Immunity is granted. He did understand the hip tang. 

A porcine heavyweight contender is rolled out, flat on its back. It’s a beast. Toby and Donald Link are in attendance. Boucherie cooking is what’s up. Boucherie is the French term for butcher. The Cajun tradition is to celebrate the whole animal in a massive cookout while challenging your liver to alcohol acrobatics. 

Butchery pissing contests ensue. Chefs grab their parts and get to work on the pig before shopping. Shopping ensues, and then they get back to the house and eat a ton of boucherie food cooked by Toby and his lieges. I love me some backbone stew. 

They wake up to coffee and hangovers. On to the gator barn place. Donald and Padma do the walk and Tom and I do another walk. We eat. 

Sometimes they nail it -- all of them -- and the bottoms are a hard call. This was one of those times. They all cooked pretty badass food, so the letdowns were pretty small. 

Brian: Porchetta with Oyster Mushrooms

Sara: Pork Dim Sum with Crab and Shrimp Har Gow

Justin: Wood-Roasted Pork Breast Taco with Pork Liver Salsa Verde

Carlos: Pozole Verde with Fried Chorizo Tacos

Shirley: Jiaozi Dumpling with Pork, Grilled Kidney, and Crispy Pork Fat Salad

Louis: Slow-Grilled Pork Leg with Spring Onions, Shiitake Mushrooms, Melted Corn, and Popcorn

Stephanie: Pork Brodo with Braised Pork Belly and Summer Vegetable Pickle

Travis: Cajun-Style Pork Ramen with Pork Bone Broth and Collard Greens

Carrie: Crispy Trotters with Snap Peas and Pickled Onions

Nicholas: Tete de Cochon with Summer Beans, Lemongrass Vinaigrette, and Wheat Berries

Nina: Braised Pig's Head Ragu, Roasted Corn, and Mustard Greens

I got all dripped up on my nice Gant Rugger shirt, which has since been shrunk down by mistaken trips to the hot dryer. It now fits me, if I was 11 all over again. Gant Rugger, you all should send me another. Please. Drips on shirts was the worst thing that happened all day, 'cause otherwise it was a great event with great people. Very cool. As I write, I am listening to Dr. John sing his heart out, and the memories of that food, those people, and that wonderful place that is New Orleans are pretty awesome. 

Winner is Carlos with a kicking posole. It was a masterful dish. Smart, real, full of feeling -- everything great food should be. 

Somebody has to go, and Louis is the one. If a reason can be found, it’s that he just busied up good pork with some weird modern popcorn thing. He’s got a busy mind, and sometimes you just muddle purity. 

Let me tell ya though: I worry not about Louis. He’s immensely driven and wonderfully talented. He’ll go far in this world. Louis, let me know if I can help in any way. 

Follow me on Twitter @hughacheson.


Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

Richard Blais explains why Mei Lin won, and why we'll definitely be hearing from Gregory Gourdet soon.

The finale of Top Chef is the one absolute every season. Make the best meal of your life, in a multi-course tasting format for a room of the "who's who" in the culinary industry.

If you get to the finals, it's the type of thing you can prepare for. Every finalist should have a few four to five course menus floating around their heads, including a dessert, and all complete with options and Plan B's transcribed to their moleskins. And although the knowledge of what's coming is helpful, the format does not play to every chef's strengths.

There aren't too many restaurants committed to such meal services. Which means less chefs experienced with how to "write" and execute them. A progressive meal has to have a certain flow about it. And even the stereotypical versions of the "menu degustation" could force a contestant into cooking a dish that's not in their wheelhouse, for instance a straight forward fish course because "it belongs there."

Tonight, Mei Lin has a slight advantage. She cooks in a restaurant every day that showcases a tasting menu. Her food has been the epitome of a modern tasting menu all season. Many previous times, to a fault. Mei's food is small and precise. Beautiful to look at, and intellectually stimulating to discuss. Cold sometimes, every once in a while a shaved radish plated with tweezers heavy. It's not for everyone. It's not for everyday. But it's the type of food that when done well, can win Top Chef. Win James Beard Award noms. Win Best New Chef honors. Win Michelin stars.

Her future could indeed be bright.

What struck me most about Mei's food tonight however, wasn't technique. Technique and presentation often can get in the way of flavor. But tonight Mei delivered a few courses that were deeply satisfying. Soulful, delicious food that also was presented at a high level and cooked with surgeon's precision. That congee though...combined with a simple dessert that took yogurt and granola to another planet, won her the day. Her other two courses were fine, but suffered from the strains of modernity. Overly plated (the duck) and technically overwrought (the fried octopus).

Gregory on the other hand, it's just not his finest work. You can hear it in his voice as he's explaining his food. He's cooking improv, an ode to Mexico. The problem is, this isn't a jam session at a local cantina. This is a studio session where the chefs should be cooking practiced and refined pieces.

His octopus was a highlight and featured the unusual combination of passion fruit and avocado. It was an explosive start. The following two courses unraveled a bit, with the soup being good, but way too unrefined for the moment and technically problematic (the crispy shrimp heads), and the fish course bordering on dessert with the sugary carrot purée.

The mole was authentic and delicious, the rib cooked perfectly, but the dish felt a little incomplete. I believe Gregory had the better ideas, but just needed to think them through a bit more.

His sadness after the fact, I can attest, is profound. Tearful. Absolute emptiness. Close to the feeling of the sudden loss of a loved one. This may shock some of you, because it is indeed just a game. The mere thought of feeling that way over such silliness is well, silly. But not for us. This isn't the Super Bowl where an athlete loses and they can shake it off. Jump in their Bentley and start thinking about next season. There is no next season. There is no guaranteed pay day for the runner-up. The ten wins you had before don't matter. It just ends. Suddenly. And it's rather sad.

The good thing is, this is certainly, 100%, not the last time you will hear from Gregory. I waxed last week about Doug's professionalism, all of which is very true. But Gregory... Gregory is a special talent. His food (and I can say HIS type of food, because it's unique to him), is a study in refined, exotic comfort. What the man can do with a one-pot meal of braised anything, some chilies, sugar, vinegar, herbs, and spices is beyond impressive. Rarely do I taste food that makes me jealous as a cook. Rarely do I taste food that makes me start thinking about a new restaurant concept. The word inspiring in cooking competitions is sort of like the word "love," when it gets used too much, it loses it luster. Gregory's food however. I love it. It is inspiring.

Congrats to Mei and Gregory! Tom was right, I can't wait to one day say I saw you two way back when, in Mexico, in a little kitchen, before the bright lights, fancy kitchens, and big stages that lay ahead for both of you.

See you next season. I hope!

Richard Blais
@RichardBlais - Twitter and Instagram

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